Greek mythology tells the story of Icarus, who dared to fly higher and closer to the sun than any man. As everyone knows, his ambition brought him to a tragic end. We hope that the 21st century “challenge to the sun” will have a happier ending for mankind and the world.
In 2009, the U.S. Global Change Research Program concluded that human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases are the main cause of the global warming observed over the past 50 years. These emissions come mainly from the consumption of fossil fuels, as well as from deforestation, agricultural practices, and other activities. Some scientists, however, theorize that solar activity has also contributed to climate change to a greater or lesser extent. Although this theory might be a minority opinion, it takes us back to the idea of challenging the sun. Perhaps the sun could simultaneously be both the cause of and the solution to global warming.
One such challenge to the sun or the solution, the DESERTEC project, is now moving off the drawing boards and becoming a reality. The project’s near-term goal is to bring solar power from the Sahara Desert to Europe and beyond within five years.
So what is DESERTEC?
DESERTEC is the brainchild of Dr. Gerhard Knies of the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation. At the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative Assembly in Munich, on July 13, 2009, Knies pointed out that “within six hours, deserts receive more energy from the sun than humankind consumes within a year.” According to the group’s website, DESERTEC “is an integrated concept which includes energy security and climate protection, as well as drinking water production, socio-economic development, security policy and international cooperation.”
The DESERTEC Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 2008, is part of the DESERTEC Industry Initiative (DII) which is led by Munich Re, a German reinsurance company. DII is a consortium of 18 companies, including Munich Re; ABB, a Swiss-Swedish power and automation technology company; Abengoa Solar, a Spain-based company focused on energy and the environment; the M+W Group, a Germany-based engineering and construction company; Cervital, an Algerian food manufacturer; NAREVA of ONA group, a Moroccan-French industrial and financial services company; Red Electrica, a Spanish company supplying power transmission systems and electricity grids; Deutsche Bank, an international bank based in Germany; RWE, a German public utility supplying electric power and natural gas; Enel, an Italian energy company; Saint-Gobain Solar, a France-based manufacturing company; e.on, a Germany-based energy company; Schott Solar, a German manufacturing company; HSH Nordbank, a German commercial bank; Siemens, a Germany-based engineering conglomerate; Flagsol, a Germany-based solar-thermal power plant company; Terna, an Italian power transmission power grid company; and the DESERTEC Foundation.
The shared mission of the DESERTEC Foundation and DII is the rapid global implementation of the DESERTEC concept, which is centered on making use of the solar and wind energy available in the world’s deserts.
DII is focused on the EUMENA (Europe, Middle East, and North Africa) region. The deserts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) supply sufficient sunlight and wind conditions to be energy sources for the region. The long-term goal, according to DII, is “to satisfy both a substantial part of the energy needs of the MENA countries and to meet about 15% of Europe’s electricity demand by 2050.”
While DESERTEC is associated with Germany and Germany-based companies, another energy project, TRANSGREEN, is linked to France and French companies. TRANSGREEN aims to develop an underwater electricity network connecting both sides of the Mediterranean as a part of the Mediterranean Solar Plan.
From a branding perspective, it is interesting to note the differences in the names these groups have chosen and in the focus of their strategy. One, DESERTEC, is all about energy supply, while other, TRANSGREEN, emphasizes changing (transforming) energy sources.